Advent (from Latin meaning ‘coming’) is a time – about four weeks – of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and is practised among many Christians throughout the world. Mary, mother of Jesus, is a central figure in this story. I look to her as someone who embodied a ‘big heart for a big world’. I imagine that God wanted to give new life to the people of earth through her willingness and cooperation. She completely opened her heart by saying “Yes” when the angel requested her to become the mother of Jesus. Continue reading
The mindfulness movement, it seems to me, was once an unconventional practice among Buddhists until it was discovered that its wisdom could be imparted to the world. Similarly, there seems to be another movement – a Zen-Ignatian movement – that also has the capacity to impart wisdom to the world.
Zazen and non-reactivity
Zen is a meditative way toward the infinite emptiness (who some may call God). Zazen is the name of the silent sitting meditation and it is done effectively in the half-lotus position which I have yet to master. Neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson has shown that mindfulness meditation, similar to zazen, may improve affective responding and emotion regulation associated with the almond-shaped area of the brain known as the amygdala. Comments of meditators who scored higher on non-reactivity include: “When I have distressing thoughts or images, I just notice them and let them go”, and “I watch my feelings without getting lost in them” (Richard et al., 2018). Continue reading
There seemed to be an integral connection between my mood and the weather this week. I experienced a period of low mood and depression while at the same time feeling the wind chill and dampness in my bones. I already came across research showing a strong overlap between physical pain and social pain, so perhaps there is scientific evidence for my pondering too.
Carried by generosity and compassion
I was consoled to find two of my brothers chatting away in the living room one evening. I decided to plonk myself on the couch beside them and to simply absorb the atmosphere. I didn’t feel like talking and there was no pressure to do so. They welcomed me, accepted my low state and emitted their positivity. I am reminded of the prayer for generosity that includes the line: “To give and not to count the cost”. My brothers shared their views and opinions without expecting me to share mine. I felt comfortable in their presence. They laboured for me – helping to alleviate my emotional pain – and sought no reward, and that strikes me as particularly generous. I eventually said “Goodnight” and went about my bedtime routine. Continue reading
According to Dr David Hamilton, an act of kindness produces the hormone oxytocin which in turn causes the release of chemicals to reduce blood pressure and combat stress damage. These physiological changes create an atmosphere of bonding.
Acts of kindness
My mother said “I am with you” as I explained my PhD proposal to her on unconventional wisdom for well-being. I was used to feeling tension on this subject, but as I communicated in an honest and heartfelt way I was surprised to find that she was on my side. Her tone was soft, her gaze was gentle and we later hugged. I don’t need her approval to be happy, but it makes a difference.
“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” – Mary Oliver
I noticed a few lovely moments this week. An evening in with a friend’s family – eating pizza, playing a board game and drinking hot chocolate. Around the table at tea break with colleagues – feeling supported in my low mood with no pressure to talk, listening to the conversation with gratitude. A heart to heart with a friend – discussing the important things, holding little back, connecting with something beyond us. Continue reading
Over the next while, I want to focus my energy on writing about interactions with people who show compassion, generosity and kindness in everyday life. In doing so, I hope to become more aware of such moments when they are happening, which can often be missed if I am not attentive to the stirrings in my heart. I begin by focusing on two special moments.
Burst of encouragement
Firstly, I recall when a writer showed me the publication of his latest book one day. He wanted to share the good news with me after his hard grafting and work over many months to make it happen. I had already read some of his writing and was keen to find out more. The best thing about his good news for me was when he declared spontaneously, “You can write a book too!” Continue reading
I have come from another Zen retreat which involved silent sitting meditation and silent walking meditation for three days. It was wonderful to tune into a sensitivity at the level of impulse. I am reminded of Saint Ignatius Loyola who maintained that a positive source “touches the soul gently, lightly, and sweetly, like a drop of water going into a sponge”. This is what it was like for me after a while at the retreat. When I got distracted, I found myself saying “gently, kindly, lovingly” from the core of my being. Then I returned to listening to the breath in my belly. Continue reading